Harvard, we have a problem

OUR industry, like many in America today, is facing a major challenge, one that presents itself in a number of different ways. But the bottom line is this: We just can't get good people.

What we have here is a failure to fabricate

Trailer dealers, truck equipment distributors, trailer manufacturers all tell us the same thing — that their company cannot hire the people they need to weld, to assemble, and in general to go out in the plant or shop and do the kind of things that need to get done. And they are not alone.

There doesn't appear to be a shortage of managers, sales personnel, or support staff. But help wanted signs always seem to be posted in an effort to find men and women to produce the goods and services that companies like yours are in business to provide.

According to the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, there are as many as 600,000 manufacturing jobs that remain unfilled because of a shortage of qualified workers. At the recent Fabtech International expo, one of the speakers mentioned one of his customers who is bringing in unemployed workers from Ireland and putting them to work at his operation in Alberta, Canada.

This shortage of technicians certainly isn't because the economy is booming. The Federal Reserve recently predicted that the unemployment rate in the United States will remain historically high well into 2015. In theory, high unemployment should make it easier for your HR department to find just the applicant you are looking for. But that isn't the case at all. A high unemployment rate will not make it easier for this reason:

What we have here is a failure to educate

America's high schools and colleges are pouring out students who would not consider working at a manufacturing plant or a truck equipment shop. Most high school graduates go off to college where they will major in one of these popular areas of study: business administration, social sciences and history, education, psychology, nursing, communications, and biology. A degree in any of these subjects can lead to rewarding careers, but the supply of these graduates far exceeds the number of jobs where these degrees can be directly applied. According to a recent Associated Press report, half of this year's college graduates either have yet to find a job or are underemployed.

What we have here is a failure to communicate

How many of these college graduates knew when they selected a major that jobs requiring their knowledge would be so limited? It's like hopping on a crowded escalator only to find that there is no place to go. Likewise, how many of them, when they were finishing high school, knew that manufacturing is a high-tech business that needs their talents and abilities? Right now, according to a report by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, 18-24 year olds rank manufacturing last among the areas they would consider as a place to start a career.

What we have here is a failure to motivate

Our high-school dropout rate is too high. A 2009 survey by the Gates Foundation found that 81% of respondents would be more inclined to finish school when the curriculum is more clearly linked to real world situations. Remember asking yourself when you were in school, “Why do we need to learn this? It's no different today.

So what's the solution? The Society of Manufacturing Engineers has developed an action plan titled “Workforce Imperative: A Manufacturing Education Strategy.” The association is calling for a cooperative effort between educators, industry leaders, trade associations, and government. The strategy has six components. Most of these components are aimed at the educators — advocating curriculum that is stronger in math and science and increases awareness of manufacturing. But one of the six components — attracting more students into manufacturing — is something individual companies as well as our trade associations can strive to achieve right away. How? Here's what the SME suggests:

  • Coach and mentor students.

  • Support youth-oriented programs that promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

  • Portray our industry as one that can offer a challenging, creative career that will enable an individual to make the world a better place — socially, financially, and environmentally.

  • Promote science, technology, engineering, and mathematics among girls and minorities.

  • Provide young people with hands-on experiences in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

This initiative is something that our industry needs to support. This is a problem that will be with us for a long time. If there is one failure that we can accept, it's the failure to procrastinate.

Agree or disagree? Make your voice heard by visiting trailer-bodybuilders.com and clicking on “Contact Us”. Follow us on Twitter @trailerbb

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